Attitudinal meaning and social struggle in heavy metal song lyrics: a corpus-based analysis

Joyce Oiwun CHEUNG, Dezheng (William) FENG

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)

1 Scopus Citations


Heavy metal as a music culture has immense social influence across the world. In recent years scholars have started to scrutinise metal music from a sociocultural perspective; yet many studies lack quantifiable supporting evidence. For a thorough understanding of band members’ self-constructed identity, this paper analyses a corpus of lyrics from 1,152 heavy metal songs. It identifies 11 lexical words which have a significantly higher frequency in metal lyrics than in popular lyrics, and a total of 1,386 concordances of the 11 words are analysed using the attitude system (Martin and White, 2005. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.). Analysis shows that heavy metal lyrics are characterised by insecurity, loneliness, sadness and desire in terms of affect, by fearlessness, freedom, and condemnation of social injustice in terms of judgement, and by the representation of unpleasant or even disgusting objects, and the valuation of death as solutions in terms of appreciation. We further argue that these attitudes are reactions to various types of social oppression, such as marginalisation by mainstream ideologies and religions, and are discursive strategies to resist and counter the oppression. At the same time, the attitudes build a distinctive heavy metal identity to reinforce in-group solidarity and to promote the music culture through catharsis.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Semiotics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Heavy metal songs
  • lyrics
  • corpus
  • identity
  • appraisal system
  • attitude

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